More than 200,000 soldiers have suffered traumatic brain injuries since 2000. That means the military is looking for ways to speed recovery.
A new report published by the Institute of Medicine suggests that nutrition may boost brain healing, especially if a patient gets the right mix soon after an injury.
University of Illinois professor John Erdman led a panel of experts who reviewed studies on nutrition and brain injury for the Department of Defense.
“Our major urge here is that nutrition be considered as quickly as possible for that wounded soldier and not as an afterthought,” Erdman said. “The earlier calories and proteins can get in, the better chance that that individual will recover and not suffer long-term problems.”
Neurologist Ausim Azizi, a Temple University School of Medicine professor, said the need for “early feeding” is well know and is probably already standard practice at the large civilian hospitals around Philadelphia. Still, he said, the new report does point to the type of nutrition that may best protect the brain from further injury.
“If we design a type of milkshake that cannot only help the body but can give a few extra proteins and vitamins and amino acids and chemicals that are essential for building the brain, that would be even more helpful,” he said.
The IOM report suggests that choline, creatine, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc are good candidates for more research. Azizi said choline–which is found in egg yolks–is already marketed as a memory booster and is available in general nutrition stores.
Evelyn Phillips, a nutrition manager at Magee Rehabilitation in Philadelphia, says much of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract, but many people don’t understand the connection between healing and the gut.
“It really requires food itself to survive, but it also wants to have food in order to feed the body, so the body can mount a defense against the injury,” she said.
Erdman said the military knows what it supplies to personnel when they set out on patrol, but officials have little idea what foods are best to help soldiers recover from injuries.